NEC Philharmonia + Hugh Wolff: Beethoven, Langer, Strauss

NEC: Jordan Hall | Directions

290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA
United States

NEC Philharmonia performs Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 2 and the world premiere of Elena Langer's Leonora's Dream, a response to the Beethoven work.  Also on the program is Richard Strauss' Don Quixote featuring Leland Ko '24 AD as cello soloist.  Hugh Wolff conducts. 

To commemorate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth (December 2020), New England Conservatory and others planned to commission three composers from underrepresented populations to respond to the three Leonore overtures of Beethoven.  The idea was to take the opera’s central theme – victory over oppression and speaking truth to power – as the starting point, and to reference the one musical idea common to all three overtures: the aria Florestan sings from the dungeon: “In des Lebens Frühlingstagen ist das Glück von mir gefloh’n” (In the springtime of my life, all my happiness has vanished).  The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted all these plans.  No concerts took place in December 2020 and only one of the commissions was completed.  This evening we are proud finally to present the world premiere of Elena Langer’s Leonora’s Dream along with its inspiration, Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no. 2.
- Hugh Wolff

Leland Ko's studies are supported by the Edward P. and Margaret Richardson Presidential Scholarship.

View the concert program in light mode & dark mode, recommended for in-person audiences.

This is an in-person event with a private stream available to the NEC community here

  • Leland Philip Ko '24 AD, cello
  1. Ludwig van Beethoven | Leonore Overture No. 2 in C Major, op. 72a


    Program note

    “Of all my children, this one gave me the worst birth pains and brought me the most sorrow.”  Thus Ludwig van Beethoven described the composition of his only opera, Fidelio.  He began work on it as Leonore in 1804, finally finishing Fidelio in 1814.  In between were two unsuccessful productions.  The Leonore Overture no. 2, despite its number, was the first one he wrote and was performed at the disastrous premiere of November 1805.  Perhaps Beethoven’s most original orchestral composition, it is a through-composed fantasia on the themes and feelings of the opera.  The opening fortissimo unison Gs and slow descending scale conjure up the slamming of the prison door and slow descent into the basement dungeon.  Within eight measures Beethoven moves from C major to B minor, then abruptly to A-flat major, and the woodwinds quote the above-mentioned aria of Florestan.  A mysterious pianissimo transition leads to an Allegro ­–– rescue music that starts more as dream than reality.  Minutes later, a distant trumpet signals the impending arrival of rescuers.  Virtually every measure of this astounding overture describes one of four emotions: the cruelty of the oppressor, the fear and frailty of the oppressed, the dream of a better world, or the drama of rescue.

  2. Elena Langer | Leonora's Dream (2022)

    World premiere


    Program note

    am mostly a composer of operas, so it was particularly nice that the New England Conservatory asked me to write an orchestral response to Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio. Fidelio is a she in the story, a woman called Leonora who, disguised as a man, frees her husband from prison. My piece is written, so to speak, from Leonora’s point of view. I wanted to express her indomitable spirit,  her feelings of joy and hope, alongside moments of softness and lyricism.
            Beethoven wrote several overtures to his Leonora storySince all three Leonora overtures share one musical element, the first phrase of Florestan’s aria 'In des Lebens Frühlingstagen' ('In the springtime days of life') from the opera's second actI wanted to include and play with some musical elements from that aria. I use Beethoven’s motif at the beginning, but stretch it in time and let it ring and tinkle, using high orchestral instruments combined with glockenspiel and flexatone; then the music gradually develops into an imaginary chorus of songbirds. In the fast section I played with the idea of a major triad, and you will hear a lot of ‘jumping’fast-changing, percussive orchestral triads. 
            It was important for me to know I was writing for young musicians. I enjoyed giving each orchestral player a little song, so there are many solos and divisi passages, but sometimes the orchestra plays in a happy, strong unison.”                        
    – Elena Langer


  4. Richard Strauss | Don Quixote (Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character), op. 35 (1897)

    Thema: Don Quixote, the Knight of Sorrowful Countenance; Maggiore: Sancho Panza
    Variation I: The Attack on the Giant (actually windmills)
    Variation II: The Attack on a Hostile ArmY (actually sheep)
    Variation III: Dialogue of the Knight and the Squire (meditations on chivalry)
    Variation IV: The Rescue of the Abducted Maiden (actually pilgrims with an icon of the Virgin Mary)
    Variation V: Don Quixote’s Vigil (nocturnal meditation on love and loneliness)
    Variation VI: The Encounter with the beloved Dulcinea (actually a peasant girl)
    Variation VII: The Ride through the Air (firmly anchored on the ground)
    Variation VIII: The Adventure in the Enchanted Boat                         
    Variation IX: The Combat with the Two Satanists (actually monks)
    Variation X: The Defeat of Don Quixote by the Knight of the White Moon
    Finale: The Death of Don Quixote


    Program note

    Richard Strauss was a musical storyteller, whether through the more obvious form of opera, or – less intuitively – the symphonic poem.  Till Eulenspiegel, Don Juan, and Also sprach Zarathustra all have the written word as their starting point.  The most elaborately literary of all is his Don Quixote, fancifully subtitled “Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character”, and based on the classic 17th century novel by Cervantes.  The role Don Quixote de la Mancha is taken by the solo cello; his trusty sidekick and manservant Sancho Panza, by the solo viola with help from the unlikley duo of bass clarinet and tenor tuba. 
            In Cervantes’ story, the aged Don has read too many books about the wonders of knighthood, filling his addled brain with such fantasies that proper judgment goes by

    the wayside.  A lengthy introduction depicts this loss of sanity with complex, contrapuntal music that veers toward the atonal (especially striking for 1897).  The knight then introduces himself (Thema: solo cello) followed by Sancho Panza (Maggiore: solo viola).  The ten knightly “adventures” that follow are misadventures with unfortunate outcomes.  First (Variation I), the pair come across windmills.  Thinking they are giants, the knight charges, only to be dumped unceremoniously from his steed.  Next (Variation II) is a flock of sheep (depicted with astounding originality and accuracy by flutter-tonguing muted brass), mistaken for a hostile army.  Again, the knight charges and again he is rudely separated from his horse.  What follows is a long two-part Variation III.  First the Don and Sancho Panza in dialog: the former expounding on idealism and chivalry, the latter responding with ever more banal platitudes (silly solo viola melodies with four-square phrasing and harmonies).  Finally, the Don loses patience with his servant and chastises him for lack of ideals.  What follows is an exquisite slow movement, rich in voluptuous Straussian melodies, as Don Quixote waxes rhapsodic on the wonders of knighthood.  Sancho Panza’s reaction is a puzzled “Huh?” from the bass clarinet which elicits another frustrated outburst from the Don.  Off they go again (Variation IV), this time encountering a group of pilgrims carrying an icon of the Virgin Mary.  Thinking they are bandits with an abducted maiden, the Don challenges them with similarly predictable results.  Quixote picks himself up off the ground, and Sancho Panza laughs in delight that his master is still in one piece.  Night falls and the Don keeps a vigil over his armor (Variation V).  He dreams of Dulcinea, the idealized and unattainable woman, in a deeply felt and melancholy variation for solo cello, supported simply by the orchestra cellos and occasional harp glissandi.  A passing peasant girl with a tambourine awakens him from this reverie (Variation VI).  Thinking her Dulcinea, turned by wizards from goddess to strumpet, he attempts her “rescue.”  Not the least interested in being “rescued,” she casts him aside.  Next is a trip on flying horses (Variation VII), in fact hobby horses rooted to the ground.  A wind machine conjures speeding through the air, while a pedal point D in the timpani, tuba, and double basses, firmly held for the entire variation, confirms that liftoff was never achieved.  From the air to the water, the Don and Sancho Panza now board an “enchanted” boat (Variation VIII), only to have it capsize (the tenor tuba’s leitmotif is literally inverted).  Sopping wet, the pair shake off the water (stuttering pizzicati in all strings) and quickly offer a prayer of thanks (quiet woodwind phrase).  Next up (Variation IX), the pair see a couple of monks chanting in Latin (another bit of orchestrational magic from Strauss: two bassoons in close quasi-renaissance counterpoint).  Sure they are Satanists, the Don creeps up on them and sends them running for their lives.  Variation X, the wild battle with the Knight of the White Moon, ends with the Don’s final and most dramatic defeat.  Accepting his fate, the Don’s sanity and judgment return.  In a heartfelt Finale, full of longing, regret, and – finally – acceptance, the solo cello gives us Don Quixote’s final thoughts.  With a quiet descending octave glissando, the knight breathes his last.  As Cervantes writes, “never has a mind died so mildly, so peacefully.”


    Leland Philip Ko

    Leland Ko is the kind of person who's always had an overflow of energy.  His restlessness has led him to various callings, from calligraphy and origami to competitive tennis and distance running, but so far he’s found that making music with and for others – and the process that goes into that – are the things that best keep him seated and focus his mind.  Though he has chosen to dedicate himself to classical music, he does his best to remember and live by a former mentor’s advice that music is about life, not the other way around.
            A cellist of Chinese-Canadian descent, yet born and raised in the Boston area, Leland was a long-time student of Ronald Lowry and Paul Katz before attending Princeton University, where he graduated with an A.B. in German Literature.  He went on to complete an M.M. at The Juilliard School under the teaching of Minhye Clara Kim, Timothy Eddy, and Natasha Brofsky, and began as an Artist Diploma candidate at New England Conservatory in the Fall of 2022 with Laurence Lesser.        Since the end of 2020, Leland plays on the ex-Peled, ex-Greenhouse Thomas Dodd from 1790.

    • Leland Philip Ko '24 AD, cello (Don Quixote)
    • Cara Pogossian '23 MM, viola (Sancho Panza)


    First Violin
    Jaewon Wee
    SooBeen Lee
    Yulia Watanabe-Price
    Qiyan Xing
    Anatol Toth
    Yebin Yoo
    Caroline Jesalva
    Anthony Chan

    Felicitas Schiffner
    Hila Dahari
    Bella Jeong
    Bree Fotheringham
    Youngji Choi
    Haerim Oh

    Second Violin
    Nick Hammel
    Xiaoqing Yu
    Eunha Kim
    Joshua Brown
    Hyeon Hong
    Kristy Chen

    Kathryn Amaral
    Isabella Gorman
    Minami Yoshida
    Hannah O’Brien
    Claire Byeol Kim

    Nozomi Murayama
    Eric Chen

    Cara Pogossian
    Aidan Garrison
    Yeh-Chun Lin
    Lisa Sung
    Elton Tai
    Samuel Zacharia
    Bram Fisher
    Kwong Man To
    Njord Fossnes
    Ayano Nakamura
    Sophia Tseng
    Adam Newman


    Soobin Kong
    Lillian Yim
    Lily Stern
    Bennet Huang
    Daniel Kim
    Youjin Ko
    Dilshod Narzillaev
    JungAh Lee
    Seoyeon Koo
    Hao Wang

    Yu-Cih Chang
    Gregory Padilla
    Alyssa Peterson
    Chiyang Chen
    Yihan Wu

    Willie Swett

    Javier Castro
    Jeong Won Choe *
    Jay Kim
    Amelia Libbey ‡
    Yang Liu §
    Subin Serena Oh

    Chia-Fen Chang §
    Anne Chao ‡

    Dane Bennett *
    Donovan Bown
    Kian Hirayama ‡
    Sojeong Kim
    Kelley Osterberg
    Sam Rockwood §

    English horn
    Gwen Goble ‡
    Alexander Lenser §

    Tristan Broadfoot §
    Hyunwoo Chun ‡
    Chenrui Lin
    Aleksis Martin
    Soyeon Park *
    Erica Smith

    E-flat Clarinet
    Erica Smith

    Bass Clarinet
    Thomas Acey §
    Aleksis Martin ‡

    Zoe Beck ‡
    Andrew Brooks
    Garrett Comrie
    John Fulton
    Miranda Macias *§

    Julien Rollins

    Adam Chen §
    Matthew Heldt ‡

    French horn
    Logan Fischer ‡
    Karlee Kamminga *
    Huimin Mandy Liu
    Yeonjo Oh §
    Willow Otten
    Paolo Rosselli
    Jenna Stokes

    Daniel Barak ‡
    Michael Harms
    Sarah Heimberg
    Eddy Lanois §
    Nelson Martinez
         off stage
    David O’Neill
    Alex Prokop
    Dimitri Raimonde *

    Piccolo Trumpet
    Jon-Michael Taylor

    Jack Earnhart

    Eli Canales
    Puyuan Chen §
    Lukas Helsel ‡
    Alex Knutrud *
    Noah Korenfeld
    Quinn McGillis

    Bass Trombone
    Ki Yoon Park

    Masaru Lin §
    David Stein ‡

    Eli Geruschat *
    Hayoung Song §
    Leigh Wilson ‡

    Eli Geruschat
    Ross Jarrell §
    Hayoung Song
    Zesen Wei ‡
    Leigh Wilson

    Yvonne Cox ‡
    Morgan Mackenzie Short §

    Sung Ho Yoo

    Principal players